How It All Began

The 1st of two exposures made at White House Pool

On a bright fall afternoon in 1986 I stood on the banks of Lagunitas Creek at a bend we locals call White House Pool. My 35mm camera was on a tripod. I felt a mix of emotions­–elation as I watched this rare occurrence of popcorn clouds reflecting on the still waters below and fear that what I saw was just too much to express with an image made with my camera.

It had been three years since I had decided to dedicate my life to becoming an artist/photographer. Most of that time was spent in mastering the technical aspects of photography. Now, hesitating, I wondered if I would have something worthwhile to say. So, as I stood on the banks of the river with a magnificent tableau begging to be photographed, the time had come. It was as if God had reached down from the clouds to shake me by the shoulders, saying “Well, what are you waiting for?”

So, I went for it. When I first saw the scene, the water was still with the clouds mirrored below. As I looked through the lens, a gentle breeze started, slightly rippling the reflections on the water. I made a horizontal photo first, and then quickly turned the camera for a vertical shot. Click. Suddenly, the wind intensified, erasing all the reflections. The scene was gone!

The second photograph composed at White House Pool, October 1986
The 2nd and last exposure that day

Back in the darkroom I looked through the wet film as it hung drying. The beauty of the light pouring through the reversed image was extraordinary. I looked forward to printing the positives. When the first prints appeared, almost magically from the development tray, I began to feel hope that I finally had something to say, to show. Next I would have to decide which of the two compositions I would put out into the world.

I decided to feature the vertical and began making prints. Clouds, White House Pool (vert.) became a  signature photograph of my early landscape work. It provided entry to Viewpoints Gallery curated by the late Lee Flynn. Lee took me on as a featured photographer and gave me my first exhibits.

Clouds, White House Pool (vert.) began to sell. Limited-editions went out to the world. It was used as premium during a fund-raiser by the Bolinas Museum, and was the featured artwork used to promote the West Marin Music Festival. It opens my book, Point Reyes 20 Years.

Meanwhile, Clouds, White House Pool (horiz.) the first exposure I made that afternoon, became an orphan. A few miniatures and a couple of numbered prints were sold early on. I began overlooking it and I stopped showing it. 

The other day, a visitor to my gallery who had seen one of the rare horizontal miniatures, asked if I could make a print for her. I located the negative and as I made her print, I wondered why this beautiful image had been abandoned. Had I chosen the wrong version to feature in my catalog? As I worked on the orphaned print I became more and more drawn to it. Memories of that afternoon, so long ago, flooded me. I decided to add it to my catalog and made a large version for the front window of my gallery.

So now, I’d like to know—which one do YOU like best? Please take a closer look via the links below. Write to me here:, or post your comments on this blog page. I’m all ears, and if you don’t mind, please tell me why you prefer one over the other!
Clouds, White House Pool (horiz.)
Clouds, White House Pool (vert.)

8 comments on “How It All Began

  1. I like the vertical better. It leads my eye to the focal point of the middle bush immediately. Having the entire central cloud reflected is also a nice part of the image.

  2. Hi Marty,
    Add me to the vertical group. For me it is less confusing for the eye as its lines draw me to the center, rather than moving from side to side. Nevertheless, I’d be really happy if I had ever managed to photograph this scene as well as the horizontal version does.

  3. I like them both however I find the vertical more appealing. The sky is just a tad darker and the foreground reflection captures the expansiveness of the upper clouds. I agree with John K that the vertical provides the most interesting view for the scene.

    These photos are very special as our first field stop at a years ago workshop was at White House Pool. That day we had fog lifting off the pool.

  4. Hello Marty,
    It’s a toss-up as they are both so pleasing to the eye. Forced to choose, I vote for the vertical for its edge on ‘pow power.’ I think it’s because there are slightly more dramatic clouds reflected in the foreground.
    From one of your many fans,

  5. I like the vertical one better. It emphasizes the cloud reflections in the pool more and I think shows the bottom of the pool in the foreground. However, I would be very happy if I took the horizontal image!

    Marty B

  6. Hi, Marty:
    Thank you for sharing the story of these photographs and the journey that resulted from your decision to record the scene before you.
    Preference? They are both beautiful children of the lens and film that arouse equally strong, though different feelings of affection.
    “Vertical” says ‘Go down the river, follow the clouds, explore and discover–do not think about how or when you will return’.
    “Horizontal” says ‘Pause here for the afternoon, drop a line into the water, maybe catch supper while you lie in the boat and watch the clouds drift overhead’.

  7. Hi Marty —
    Interesting question. I like the vertical image, because it focuses attention on the most interesting part of the picture, rather than the broader landscape. Also, it does a better job of presenting the masses of the clouds and trees (with an additional set in the water).


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